In the dry and rocky bed of Copeland Creek, hemmed in by blackberry bushes, Chase Takajo used a GPS device to look for the right spot to set a trap.
The Sonoma State University senior would set two, each designed to catch and measure the sediment carried from Sonoma Mountain toward the Laguna de Santa Rosa.
The work is part of a long-range effort to restore the nine-mile long waterway, keep it healthy, and manage its sediment accumulation in order to minimize its impact on flooding.
"It's the start of a study that will be continued hopefully for years and years and years," said Takajo, a geography major from Southern California.
"I think it puts a little pressure on me to be perfection," he said. "So that people in the future know how the creek was at this time, with no variables."
Takajo's field work is taking place in the inaugural year of a partnership between Sonoma State University and the Sonoma County Water Agency. The collaboration is funded by $50,000 from county property tax revenues that are directed toward flood control programs.
More than 470 students have participated in various creek-related projects in the partnership's first year, gathering sediment data as Takajo does, installing sensor networks to measure evaporation of water from trees, and sampling water quality.
"That's going to be data we'll be able to use to manage our maintenance activities and it will help us when we design additional facilities in the future to adapt to climate change," Mike Thompson, the water agency's assistant general manager, said Thursday as he watched Takajo.
Until the late 1800s the creek ended naturally in what is now Rohnert Park and Cotati, where it formed a seasonal lake.
But development of farms and, later, neighborhoods, led to the creek being channeled into the Laguna de Santa Rosa. The sediment it carries hinders the Laguna's flood control function, as well as the creek's ability to hold water in its banks.
Understanding the rate at which sediment gathers and travels will eventually assist the agency in preventing it from reaching the Laguna at levels greater than would naturally occur, Thompson said.
And getting into the creek is an experience unlike any other in his education," said Takajo.
"You can learn as much as you want in the classroom," he said, "but until you get out in the field and see all the errors and how to fix them — that really works it all out. It's really exciting and rewarding."
As well, said Thompson, the project establishes ties with SSU students who become potential Water Agency employees and "who already have this connection to our community."
"We want to strengthen that talent pipeline," he said, standing under a bridge connecting the Green Music Center parking lot to the other side of the campus.